The art of moseying.

Since you all seem to have pegged me as the sunshine-and-rainbows-shooting-out-of-Korea's-ass type, I thought I'd take the time to do my own whining today, just to prove to you all that I can. You see, it's almost an matter of honor at this point. And I want to show everybody that I know how it's done.

You see -- on my walk home today, I was doing more than walking. I was practicing. Very purposely putting all of my effort into practicing. Practicing what?

What my father used to gruffly refer to as "moseying and dilly-dallying", as in, "Quit your dang moseying and dilly-dallying and get the lead out! I don't have all day to wait around for you!" Now. Maybe I was traumatized by these childhood beratings into subconsciously accepting that "moseying and dilly-dallying" is the worst possible thing a human being can do. Maybe it was my years in New York, the anti-fan-of-moseying-and-dilly-dallying capital of the world that did it. But one way or another, if there's one thing I can be a grade A petty whiner about in Korea, it's the dang moseying and dilly-dallying.

Koreans are world class champs at moseying. And not just moseying as in walking slow. Moseying as in walking slow while meandering. And ajummas -- proper ajummas, as in mothers of young children, not the halmeonis -- are the heavy weight class in this sport.

It's maddening! I don't even know how they do it. You see one up ahead. You begin to prepare yourself. She weaves (slowly) left. That's fine. You duck right. She weaves (gradually) right. You expected that! You were totally prepared for that to happen! You sway left. Just as you come up behind her, and begin to pass on what has clearly become the safe option of the left side, she moves, ever so casually, directly into the middle of the whole goddamn path. Where she remains for the next agonizing, hands-behind-the-back, heel-to-toe, taking-in-all-the-goddamn-scenerey fifteen minutes until you make it the half a block to the next light, where you can finally pass.

Grocery stores. Don't even fucking get me started. It's a family passtime. Dilly-dallying. Dilly-dallying with gigantic shopping carts and fifteen children in tow. I don't even know where the fifteen children come from -- I've met maybe two students who have more than one sibling. They must borrow the neighbors' kids to make the outing super special, or something. But there they all are -- not in a line, but a gaggle -- slowly taking in all of the joys to be contemplated on the coffee aisle. Examining the contents of their own cart in the middle of the main thoroughfare. Crowded around the cheese section, blocking everything from the chocolate flavored individually wrapped slices on down to the butter.

I realize Korea is a crowded place. New York is a crowded place. But New Yorkers have learned to cope with the crowdedness, and how to get out of the goddamn way. In fact, if you don't get out of the goddamn way, you're likely to lose a limb. New Yorkers don't fuck around. They're almost German in their efficiency of navigating crowded, tiny spaces with a pristine, smooth organization that borders on anal retention.

Now. I hail from Texas. I think Texas is probably the very origin of the word "mosey". We're famous for it. We take our dear sweet time about things. The clerk behind the counter at the local drugstore will stand there having a ten minute conversation with a customer about the weather, while twenty-five people lollygag in line behind them, grinning from ear-to-ear to themselves about how blasted friendly their little neighborhood is. That's just our way. But here's the difference -- we have the space to mosey. We have the time to dilly-dally.

In Korea, in the Seoul area at least, people are stacked on top of one another. Combine this with the "bbali-bbali!" culture, and I just don't see how things could have turned out this way. Back in New York, when I was starting to think about moving to Korea, the first thing my Korean students would mention to me was how I was going to have to adjust to the speed of Korea. Nothing they've ever said to me has continued to puzzle me so much, up to this very day. What in the hell were they talking about? Did they mean the lifestyle? The pressure? The tendency to stay out until all goddamn hours of the night, instead of returning home to relax and laze around after 6 pm on a weeknight? Because they sure as hell couldn't have meant the literal pace of the citizens of their fair country of origin. That shit couldn't possibly be slower.

There have been so many issues of culture shock that I've successfully overcome in my time in Korea. I've had to work damn hard at some of it, and some of it has just come naturally, over time. There's very little left that I've encounterd so far that I haven't managed to sift through, sorting into one small pile of "never going to be able to tolerate it", and two equal, bigger piles of "ah I get it now!" and "whatever, I'm over it". But this one... this one bothers me so much that I'm determined to get rid of it.

So, these days I'm practicing. I'm practicing meandering around the grocery store with my mouth hanging open, gazing at all the wonders it has in store for me, even though I know what I really want is two aisles up to the left, three aisles down to the right and straight on to the cashier. I'm practicing wandering home, dragging my shopping bags behind me and admiring fucking flowers along the way. Because I am fucking determined to see what all the fuss is about. And if I can't see what all the fuss is about, I am fucking determined to get in the way of just as many people as are in mine. Because that's the only other thing I can think of that will make me feel better about this entire fucking situation.


Korean Rum Diary said...

I remember once standing high above a crowd and watching them mill about... The lengths they go to to actually get in someone else's way! It's incredible. Old men will hustle across a sidewalk just to slow walk in front of a younger person. Old women will jab younger women in the ribs just for the pleasure of getting in front of someone whose journey they can suspend with their incessant shuffling.

These people enjoy a good meander along a sidewalk, too. It's not just the speed... it's the fact that they'll always endeavor to take up every last bit of space they can with their walking.

Anyway, this stopped bothering me about a year ago, when I realised I wasn't averse to just "koreaning" back at them.

SSpiegel said...

A male friend actually told me that I walk very quickly even tho we were just having a walk in the park, and I definitely wasn't in a hurry or anything. Back home I'm the slowest walker ever! Even when I try to walk fast.

But yeah, this is the only thing that keeps bugging me constantly. Everything else I can live with and come to understand, but Koreans, please walk faster! I beg you! ^^

Marilyn said...

You read my mind! I have been baffled by the "빨리빨리" reputation my students think Korea has, as I also, try to fight my way around meandering Koreans of all ages ALL THE TIME.
Whew, it felt good to get that out.
I've decided they're culturally conditioned to not notice other people's presence...must be nice.

Selorm said...

I really hate people walking slow in crowded places. It's the death of me. After reading this I think I cannot go to innner Seoul for I will break out in a hulk cry. My father always walked fast and if I didn't catch up it'd be a box to the ears or other stuff that made me not enjoy walking slow unless I'm dying under the sun - even then I walk fast to try and get some damn water.

I just don't understand people who cannot walk in straight lines and at a moderate pace. I get so angry. Is jay walking illegal in inner Seoul cause I think I'd just curb jump if it was the case of deliberate slow walking people. I don't know, I just get irrationally angry.

patrick said...

coming here from montana i think i'll always be challenged to the differences in spatial awareness that exist in the korea. a friend helped me better understand the supermarket 'mosey' at least in some instances. often going to the market is one of the few times the whole family is together and in places with a lot of grazing opportunities her family started calling it 'going on a picnic.' now if i find myself bumping cart first through these happily chatting, lip smacking families i have to smile. everyone loves a picnic.

gwern said...

As a New Yorker, I now find myself wondering how the heck Germans walk if we're *almost* as efficient as them!